In this project, I will be translating circa 500 characters a day from English into Simplified Chinese from the book《无出路咖啡馆》(No Exit Cafe).
5 January 2021
失去东南西北: lose your sense of direction
马上翻脸: [intentionally did not translate]
反面人物: the bad guy
不少疑点: suspicious points
羽绒服: white coat
使我大致混得过去: I am passable
The room is very small, even smaller than the bathroom of my shabby apartment. Not a single window in sight. A single fluorescent light bouncing off the four white walls is too bright. Whether people inside the room can get enough air depends on a rectangular opening near the ceiling. Don’t even think about escaping. If you don’t believe me, run and see.
Like all suspects, my first thought when faced with this 8m2 room was: what are my chances of escaping? Even if you run out of this door, there is a long corridor outside, followed by a large office with doors leading to all directions. You will quickly lose your sense of direction. Even if you get lucky and find your way out of the office, you will be stopped at the reception. The reception is a bright, spacious hall, fair, secure and imposing, decorated with the American flag and the FBI emblem. That’s the furthest you’d be able to run. Any further, the security guard at the front door will start shouting, “Stop! Hands in the air!” He will pull out his gun and tell you to “stand against the wall”. Then, with the gun held to the back of your head, his other hand will search your body. It’d be a rather humiliating scene, I’d actually become the bad guy.
I am certainly not the good guy here. Through the monitor screen from the surveillance camera on the ceiling, I’m probably laden with suspicious points. The camera footage shows me as pale, undernourished, sleep deprived, distracted and slow-witted, like most Chinese people who have just landed in this country. Through the camera, in my white coat with a red scarf and fake Levi’s jeans, I am passable as an over-aged international student. Like most Asian female students, I kept the most frugal shoulder-length hairstyle. But don’t think you can easily blend in, it’s not that easy.
6 January 2021
I looked at my watch, 10:30, which means it’s 10:20. My watch is always faster than the actual time, whether it’s to add urgency or for an imaginary calmness, I don’t know either. I sat down on that same chair that has been sat on by suspects of murder, arson, robbery, rape and drug dealing. It’s an ugly chair. As soon as you sit on it, you become passive and disadvantaged. The armrests are wrapped in fake leather with scratches marked by restless hands. Hands that are capable of anything. Those dirty nails, carving on the chair whilst making up lies and denials that do not quite add up. My nail marks might be added here soon. My hands are also capable of anything. When I was in a bookshop an hour ago, I stuffed a book that I urgently needed for class into my coat pocket. I bought this ill-fitting coat just because of its two huge pockets, which massively reduced my expenditure on books. My fall from grace is most likely related to my inappropriate behaviour at the bookshop.
Apart from that, I don’t think I have any other shortcomings.
The door opens and a man walks in – a handsome young man, fresh-faced with fiery red hair, parted in a conservative, reliable way, carrying a scent of decent cologne. He held out his hand and said in Chinese, “Sorry to have kept you waiting”. His Beijing accent was spot-on. I gave him my hand to shake. My smile was not a good one, I looked a bit frightened. The interrogator’s looks was unexpected. He was better looking than all the American men I’ve met. His voice is pure and when he smiles, his white teeth shone bright like flashing light. And he was young, thirty at most. But don’t forget where you are. I couldn’t figure it out: was it because he had exceptionally straight set of teeth that made his smile appear particularly great or was it because he had a great smile that made his teeth appear unusually straight? But then I had to remind myself again, don’t forget, he is your interrogator.